Monday, March 2, 2009

Political campaign assumes character of carnival

Gulf Today

FEBRUARY was a month of marches in Kerala. Several political parties launched marches from Kasergode to Thiruvananthapuram during the month to galvanise their organisations for the Lok Sabha elections. Some of the marches had the trappings of a carnival.

Over the years campaign styles in the state have changed considerably. Early on, the Communists, taking the cue from the Soviet and Chinese parties, started organising parades by volunteers in red uniforms holding aloft huge red banners.

Lately, many parties have adopted styles pioneered by film star politicians of other states. They install huge cut-outs of their leaders, as MG Ramachandran did in Tamil Nadu, and undertake road journeys in decorated vehicles, as NT Rama Rao did in Andhra Pradesh.

The Kerala Congress (Jacob) was perhaps the first in the state to go in for cut-outs. When its leader, TM Jacob, led a march some years ago it erected his cut-outs in the capital.

Soon other parties followed suit. Cut-outs of leaders of political parties and caste organisations are now a familiar sight all over the state. A long march from Kasergode to Thiruvananthapuram, covering a distance of more than 550 kilometres, is today a well-recognised means by which an organisation with the capacity to raise the necessary funds can put across a political and social message.

The march usually takes the form of ride in a motor vehicle, stopping on the way to hold street corner meetings.

K. Muraleedharan holds a record for marching under different banners. His first march was as president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee. Later he left the party with his father, former chief minister K. Karunakaran, and carried the banner of the Democratic Indira Congress. He is now marching as state president of the National Congress party.

A march led by veteran Communist leader AK Gopalan from Malabar to Travancore during the freedom movement had helped to forge a sense of unity among the people of Kerala, then scattered in three different administrative units. However, the Communists were slow in joining the game of pre-election march.

State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan became the first Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader to employ the march as an election tool when he led a march before the assembly poll which brought the Left Democratic Front to power in 2006.

Local party units erected his cut-outs and put up hoardings greeting him all along the route. That marked the beginning of a change in the style of the party, which was not affected by personality cult even when it had charismatic leaders like AKG and EMS Namboodirpad. At every halt Vijayan received memorandums from the people.

He also met religious leaders and businessmen over breakfast and dinner. That road show prompted a national financial daily to report that "Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala's Buddhadeb-in-making, is fast emerging as the LDF's chief ministerial candidate." However, things did not work out that way. Responding to popular demonstrations in favour of VS Achuthanandan, the party's national leadership revised its earlier decision and allowed him to contest for the Assembly and become the chief minister.

Vijayan, who strengthened his hold on the state party during the organisational elections last year, decided to lead another march in advance of the Lok Sabha poll. Just before the march began, the Central Bureau of Investigation said it was naming him as an accused in the Lavalin case relating to a deal the State Electricity Board had struck with a Canadian company when he was power minister.

Party committees at all levels made elaborate arrangements to make the march an even greater success than the last one. As doubts prevailed about Achuthanandan's participation in it, Vijayan declared, "All those who are in the party will be in the march."

Impressed by the immense mobilisation, the party journal People's Democracy declared the march had become an exciting campaign, "creating new waves of rejuvenated political enthusiasm."

The rally that marked the end of the march was a political extravaganza. Introducing yet another element borrowed from outside, general secretary Prakash Karat and Vijayan stood on the dais with sceptre and crown. Achuthanandan turned up and said just enough to stave off possible disciplinary action for not endorsing the party's stand that the Lavalin case is politically motivated.

In the display of pomp and power, the CPI-M was way ahead of the other parties. This testifies to its superiority in human and material resources.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 2, 2009.

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